Since the last century, Iran has been methodically pursuing the in-house capability of developing a missile-delivered nuclear bomb. The regime of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is now closer than ever — probably in the latter stages of perfecting an atomic bomb with a multipoint detonation mechanism, compact enough to insert into a Shahab-3 missile nosecone.
For years, the Obama administration, Western governments, the United Nations, and the International Atomic Energy Administration (IAEA) have been fully aware of the specific details of Tehran’s nuclear weapons program, down to the blueprints and names of the engineers. Whether or not Iran will complete the last leg of its decades-long journey toward a deliverable atomic bomb is still unknown. The difference in viewing the cannon is whether you are staring down the muzzle or observing it through a telescope from a perch 6,000 miles away. Israel is peering into the muzzle, hence its assessment is different than Washington’s.
Protracted multilateral negotiations, crippling international sanctions, and even elaborate programs of sabotage have delayed but not derailed the nearly autarkic program. Now the world teeters at the brink of a regional war with profound global ramifications because the threat may have been ignored too long.
Here are the four determining factors, the dynamics of which will govern whether Israel launches a preemptive attack against Tehran’s massive nuclear infrastructure.
Four technological achievements are key to completing Tehran’s nuclear weapon: 1) accretion of enough nuclear materials, highly enriched to 90 percent, to make the bomb; 2) machining that highly enriched material into metal for a spheroid warhead so it can fit into a missile nosecone for detonation; 3) a trigger mechanism to initiate the atomic explosion at the precise moment of missile reentry; and, of course, 4) a reliable rocket delivery system to carry such a weapon.
Pakistan helped Iran start
In many ways, one of the key precursors to Iran’s nuclear push was India’s May 1974 nuclear bomb test, code-named “Smiling Buddha.” Twenty years in the making, New Delhi claimed its 1974 underground explosion was a “peaceful test.” But rival Pakistan saw it as a clear threat. Pakistan Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto quickly declared that his country would fight back against “nuclear blackmail.” The sleepy Pakistani nuclear program roared into action.
A pivotal decision was to call upon Abdul Qadeer Khan, often referred to as “AQ Khan,” revered as the father of Pakistan’s atomic weaponry. Khan, a Pakistani metallurgist and nuclear engineer, had worked in the nuclear programs of Holland and other Western countries. He was brought home to fast-track the building of Pakistan’s bomb. Quickly, Khan set up uranium-enrichment labs and ballistic-missile operations, mainly in and around the city of Kahuta, in the Rawalpindi district of Pakistan. In 1998, after India’s second nuclear test, Pakistan was ready. Within weeks, Pakistan followed suit, demonstrating it, too, possessed nuclear weapons and could deploy them rapidly.
As Pakistan barged into the nuclear age, Khan spearheaded the proliferation of the technology into other countries. In a 2009 TV interview, Khan admitted that working with Pakistan’s intelligence service, the ISI, his country developed a mutual working relationship with North Korea. After India’s detonation, Pakistan realized it needed missiles. Long the world’s biggest missile and rocket power, North Korea was the logical partner. Khan admitted in his TV interview, “We needed to have long-range missiles to reach the far-flung cities of India and to ensure our deterrence. I discussed the issue with Benazir Bhutto as well. She said ... we could cooperate with North Korea.”
Khan said Benazir Bhutto visited North Korea, adding, “I [also] had a visit to North Korea to discuss missile technology. Then the North Koreans came to Pakistan and received money from Benazir Bhutto so that we could start the missile program ... It was not that costly; I think it was hardly worth $50 million.”
He continued, “I have only been to North Korea twice — in 1994 and 1999. In 1999, General [Pervez] Musharraf sent me along with General Iftikhar [Ali Khan], who was then the chief of the Air Defense Command. We were fighting India at Kargil, and we were in dire need of antiaircraft missiles ... We went to North Korea and purchased 200 missiles from them.”
Khan added, “A North Korean team would visit the Kahuta plant during the same period as our missile deal was taking place, and it was no secret ... Everyone knew about it. They would stay at a guest house in the vicinity of Kahuta plant.” He continued, “The North Korean engineers would visit our director generals in their departments to observe different operations.”
In that 2009 TV interview, Khan also recalled, “Iran was interested in acquiring nuclear technology. Since Iran was an important Muslim country, we wished Iran to acquire this technology ... Iran’s nuclear capability will neutralize Israel’s power. We had advised Iran to contact the suppliers and purchase equipment from them.” Khan identified those initial suppliers as “a company with which we had established links when we could not receive the material from Europe. They were Sri Lankan Muslims.”
Step by step, initially with Pakistan’s assistance, and then as a self-driven engine, Iran embarked on assembling the four key elements needed to wield a nuclear bomb.
The rush to enrich
One foundation of a common atomic bomb design requires a sufficient quantity of uranium enriched to weapons-grade, or 90 percent. If missile-delivered, this material can then be converted into a metal that can be shaped into a dense spheroid — the warhead — small enough to fit into a nosecone. It is all a matter of weights and measures.
A basic method of enriching nuclear material is to whirl it around in centrifuges at a high rate of speed, thus separating out or purifying the desired uranium isotopes. Compare the process to distillation. The enrichment yield can be multiplied by acquiring more and more basic nuclear material, and then subjecting it to ever more cascades of linked centrifuges for longer processing.
Even operating at varying rates of efficiency, fast and slow, the ceaseless, metronomic output of Iranian centrifuges will eventually yield the quantity needed for several bombs. Experts estimate that a single bomb would require approximately 25 kilograms of Highly Enriched Uranium, or HEU, that has been boosted to at least higher concentrations of 90 percent.
Iran is now operating at least 10,000 centrifuges, probably many more, in its slow-motion dash to acquire the vital nuclear weight it requires. The startling number of more than 10,000 centrifuges is about ten times the known arrays Iran admitted to just a few years ago in 2007. Indeed, the country has been adding centrifuges at a dazzling rate — not incrementally but in great leaps of thousands of additional machines at a time. True, some are old-fashioned centrifuges, some wear down after ten years of operation, and some are working inefficiently. But some possess newer technology. Together, efficiently or inefficiently, these thousands of machines are conjointly increasing the stock of basic nuclear material, month by month.
After years of centrifugal processing, Iran already has accumulated enough low enriched uranium, or LEU, to create five or six bombs — that is, if the LEU material would be boosted to weapons-grade, or 90 percent. With each passing day, that LEU stock expands in volume and potency. Much of Iran’s nuclear enrichment remains at 3.5 percent level. But Iran has admitted and inspectors have verified that the country has already reached the 20 percent threshold (actually 19.75 percent), producing by now about 300 kilograms — enough to move to the next steps of weapons-grade. Those steps must first enrich to the next level, say, the 60 percent level, and from there to 90 percent, which is bomb quality.
Enriching to 3.5 percent is 75 percent of the task of reaching weapons-grade. Once Iran has reached 20 percent, it has gone 90 percent of the distance to making weapons-grade uranium. In other words, once the process has been mastered to 20 percent, it is only a matter of time before 90 percent bomb-quality HEU can be created. Depending upon the number of cascades and centrifuges acting in concert, Iran could amass some 25 kilograms of bomb-ready 90 percent HEU in six months to a year. Within a year, at its current rate of exponential growth, Iran could have enough HEU to arm several bombs.
To fortify its unstoppable enrichment process, Tehran has constructed numerous redundant facilities, some underground, perhaps some operating in secret outside the sightlines of IAEA monitors. Some are in hospitals. Iran agreed to permit IAEA inspectors when, in 1974, it signed the “Safeguards Agreement.” The Safeguards Agreement is an adjunct to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty that Tehran adopted in 1968 when it took its first baby steps toward the “Nuclear Club.”
Each Iranian enrichment facility — known or unknown — is crammed with those iconic cascades of tall and shiny aluminum centrifuges. Each cascade is comprised of dozens of centrifuges like long hands with many fingers. The march is almost unstoppable. If one cascade goes down, if a complete multi-cascade “production hall” stops operating, indeed if an entire plant is destroyed, others elsewhere in Iran will pick up the pace. Hour by hour, day by day, those centrifuges incrementally crank out the nuclear material needed to create the kilograms of HEU needed for a bomb. Despite international sanctions and global pressure, the centrifuges spin nonstop. The centrifugal forces have only accelerated. The clock is ticking.
But the lethality of Iran’s weapons program cannot be assessed merely by measuring the size and enrichment level of its nuclear material. That is one measure — but only one — of four indispensable measurements. All the gunpowder in the world will not make a bullet. It must be manufactured. That bullet needs a rifle before it can be shot. Finally, it needs a marksman in position.
The next step requires Iran’s growing stock of enriched uranium to be shaped into a weaponized spheroid object — the warhead. That process has been underway for many years.
Spherodization of uranium metal into a warhead
For the past 15 years, Iran has been on a quest to master the machining and engineering skills needed to transform Highly Enriched Uranium into a spheroidal or hemispherical mass that could be loaded into a missile cone to constitute the warhead.
Tehran long ago acknowledged to the IAEA that it indeed established “contacts with intermediaries of a clandestine nuclear-supply network in 1987 and the early 1990s, and that, in 1987, it had received ... a 15-page document (hereafter referred to as the ‘uranium metal document’), which outlines the conversion of uranium fluoride compounds into uranium metal and the production of hemispherical enriched uranium metallic components.”
The campaign to build and detonate a nuclear spheroid payload has been years in the making. Iranian scientists who contacted Khan and his circles were particularly eager to learn more about “neutron cross-section calculations ... and shock-wave interactions with metals,” according to a November 8, 2011 IAEA report compiled by the agency’s director general to its Board of Governors. Later, Iranian scientists sought “complex calculations relating to the state of criticality of a solid sphere of uranium being compressed by high explosives,” that same IAEA report attributes to a Member State. Such calculations are essential to test the potency of any spheroid warhead Iran would load into a missile nosecone. The IAEA admits it has known about this aspect of the Iranian weaponization effort since 2005.
As early as 2003, Iran undertook “to initiate a high-explosive charge in the form of a hemispherical shell,” as detailed in a November 2011 IAEA report that features a special extended Annex labeled “Possible Military Dimensions to Iran’s Nuclear Program.” The Annex, published by the IAEA, laid out the details obtained through its Member States.
“During that experiment,” the Annex explained, “the internal hemispherical curved surface of the high-explosive charge was monitored using a large number of optical-fiber cables, and the light output of the explosive upon detonation was recorded with a high-speed streak camera. It should be noted that the dimensions of the initiation system and the explosives used with it were consistent with the dimensions for the new payload, which ... were given to the engineers who were studying how to integrate the new payload into the chamber of the Shahab-3 missile reentry vehicle.” Then, in 2005, the IAEA’s November 2011 military annex asserts, Iran sought the expertise to assemble “the complex calculations relating to the state of criticality of a solid sphere of uranium being compressed by high explosives.”
To better perfect the weaponization of a HEU spheroid warhead, Iran must test and measure the metal ball’s reaction to those high explosives. These studies are known as hydrodynamics because they measure when material is so massively compressed and heated that it begins to flow and function like a fluid. This brings into play an understanding of fluid dynamics.
The IAEA’s November 2011 military annex makes clear that “throughout the entire timeline,” inspectors have documented Iran’s acquisition of items that “would be useful in the development of a nuclear explosive device.” The Annex enumerates with extreme specificity that these items include “high-speed electronic switches and spark gaps (useful for triggering and firing detonators); high-speed cameras (useful in experimental diagnostics); neutron sources (useful for calibrating neutron-measuring equipment); radiation detection and measuring equipment (useful in a nuclear-material production environment); and training courses on topics relevant to nuclear-explosives development (such as neutron cross-section calculations and shock-wave interactions/hydrodynamics).”
Indeed, that November 2011 Annex devotes an entire section, Section C.7., entitled “Hydrodynamic Experiments,” to detailing the steps Iran has taken to test the detonation of spheroidal metals. The section states that “Iran has manufactured simulated nuclear-explosive components using high-density materials such as tungsten.” It also speaks of databanks of modeling and calculations “to monitor the symmetry of the compressive shock of the simulated core of a nuclear device.”
Most alarming, states the Annex, is the discovery of a unique “large-explosives containment vessel in which to conduct hydrodynamic experiments.” The vessel has been in the Parchin complex for over a decade, according to the IAEA report. So well authenticated is this massive cylindrical containment vessel, with its characteristic external piping to siphon off and register explosive results, that the Associated Press felt sure enough to syndicate a sketch of the chamber. The AP sketch of the explosion testing chamber with its distinctive yellow piping was published worldwide earlier this year.
The IAEA military annex concludes, “Hydrodynamic experiments such as those described above, which involve high explosives in conjunction with nuclear material or nuclear-material surrogates, are strong indicators of possible weapon development.”
How far along the path of perfecting the metallurgy, spheroidization, and the control of that spheroid under intense detonation is unknown. But the real question is can a warhead be detonated?
Nuclear warhead detonation
A super-precise, multipoint detonating trigger would be needed to initiate the atomic chain reaction that will produce the bomb with its mushroom cloud. The deadly spheroid cannot just be match-lit with a fuse or beat with a hammer. Such a device must be detonated with a super-sophisticated nuclear trigger engineered with the extraordinary precision and synchrony requisite to initiate the implosion.
The nuclear trigger now in the latter stages of development in Iran is the R265 system. Specifically, the R265 employs a multipoint shock generator that causes a simultaneous implosion from all sides surrounding the spheroidal weaponized material, according to the IAEA intelligence distributed to all Western governments. It must be compact. The Shahab-3 tri-conic nosecone features a diameter of 600 millimeters, according to missile weapons experts. The outer radius of the R265 system offers a “diameter of 550 millimeters, less than the estimated diameter of about 600 millimeters available inside the payload chamber of a Shahab-3,” according to a recent report by the nuclear experts at the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS), nuclear armament experts who have access to IAEA reports and monitor all developments in Iran’s nuclear program.
The hemispherical aluminum of the R265 shell that will host the implosion sequence is 265 millimeters thick, leaving a 10 millimeter distance for the sequence. According to a November 2011 ISIS report released in tandem to the IAEA military annex, the design appears simple, even if making it work with microsecond synchrony is a prodigious task of engineering. “Outer channels are cut into the outer surface of the shell,” explains the ISIS report, “each channel one by one millimeter.” The report adds, “Each channel terminates in a cylindrical hole, 5 mm in diameter, that is drilled though the shell and contains an explosive pellet.” The explosive pellets, the November 2011 ISIS report continues, will be made of PETN. The powerful explosive PETN is the one many terrorists have chosen.
“The geometrical pattern formed by channels and holes is arranged in quadrants on the outer hemispheric surface, which allows a single central point of initiation and the simultaneous detonation of explosives in all the holes on the hemisphere,” according to the November 2011 ISIS report. That outer detonation constitutes merely stage one.
The simultaneous initiation of a high explosive in the outer hemisphere impacts a second interior device known as “exploding bridgewire” (EBW). The timing will not be measured in seconds, or even milliseconds—which are one-thousandths of a second—but in microseconds. A microsecond is one-millionth of a second.
As far back as May 2008, an IAEA report stated, “Iran acknowledged that it had conducted simultaneous testing with two to three EBW detonators with a time precision of about one microsecond.” Indeed, the IAEA confirmed that such testing of EBW detonators has been underway at least since February 2004 and probably since 2003 utilizing “as many as 500 EBW detonators.” ISIS states, “Iran would need only two EBWs to initiate a nuclear explosion.”
In a February 2008 weaponization briefing obtained ISIS, the IAEA described some Iranian research graphics it had discovered. “Several sketches for a missile head integrating the chamber described above were shown,” the IAEA briefing notes detail, “indicating the electronic mechanism and the spherical warhead. They do not, however, give an explicit indication that it’s a nuclear weapon. The following stages of the project are mentioned in the slides: configuration of the structure, design of material, connections, tightness of chamber seal, test of design, [and] tolerance of surface states. Mathematical simulations appear to have been done to define the centers of mass, the equilibrium of the charges, the whole coinciding with the parameters for a Shahab-3 warhead.”
Some of the EBW testing was done in what a 2008 IAEA briefing describes as “a 400m deep shaft located 10 km from a firing control point,” which “shows the placement of various electronic systems such as a control unit and a high-voltage power generator.”
With the R265 and EBWs operational, Tehran’s device would require the final ingredient to make it a working nuclear bomb: the neutron initiator. Iran has it.
IAEA inspectors have identified the foreign expert who gave Iran the expertise to operate at split-microsecond speed. His name is Vycheslav V. Danilenko, a Ukrainian engineer employed for three decades in the Soviet Union’s nuclear-weapon complex at Chelyabinsk-70. In the early 1960s, Danilenko worked as “a member of the gas dynamics group” says an ISIS summary of IAEA documents. His specialty was precision photography and measurement of high-explosive detonation and shock compression. The high-explosive by-products were nanodiamonds, also known as UDD (ultra-dispersed diamonds).
The ISIS summary states that after falling on hard economic times in the early 1990s, Danilenko “contacted the Iranian embassy in mid-1995, offering his expertise on UDD. At the end of the year, he was contacted by Dr. Seyed Abbas Shahmoradi,” a top controller at the Iran’s nuclear establishment. Ultimately, says the ISIS summary, “Danilenko signed a contract with Shahmoradi.” ISIS adds, “The IAEA has reviewed publications by Danilenko and has met with him. It has been able to verify through three separate sources, including the expert himself, that he was in Iran during that time.”
In December 2009, ISIS published a further report on Iran’s nuclear-weapon progress that described the vital role of the neutron initiator in activating the chain reaction that makes the warhead explode as a nuclear bomb. That report describes, “a neutron initiator made out of uranium deuteride (UD3), which, when finished (and subsequently manufactured), would most likely be placed at the center of a fission bomb made from weapons-grade uranium. This type of initiator works by the high explosives compressing the nuclear core and [then] the initiator producing a spurt of neutrons as a result of fusion ... The neutrons flood the core of weapons-grade uranium and initiate the chain reaction.”
The December 2009 ISIS report indicates work on a neutron initiator might have occurred even before 2003, adding, “Although Iran might claim that this work is for civil purposes, it has no civil application.” That ISIS report also makes clear that getting the neutron initiator operable “would be the hardest measurement Iran would need to make in developing a nuclear weapon ... The timing of the explosion and resulting shock waves would need to be perfect in order to get enough fusion to create a spurt of neutrons in a reliable manner at exactly the right instant.” The report adds, “This approach was followed by Pakistan in the early 1980s.”
Indeed, a Pakistani neutron initiator can be seen at on the cover of the book, Dr. A. Q. Khan on Science and Education. The book shows AQ Khan standing in front of a green chalkboard with his design for a multipoint nuclear-bomb trigger featuring a neutron initiator distinctly labeled in the middle of the warhead.
With 25 kilograms of enough highly enrichment uranium converted into a deadly metallic sphere compact enough to be inserted inside a 600-millimeter tri-conic nosecone and encased in a two-stage R265 shock generator working in tandem with an EBW to ignite a neutron initiator, Iran would still need a reliable delivery vehicle.
Iran has it: the Shahab-3.
Shahab-3 missile delivery — airburst at 600 meters
Iran’s main nuclear warhead-ready missile is the Shahab-3, the renamed North Korean No-Dong 1, which is based on a Russian Scud-C design. In Farsi, Shahab means meteor. While Iran possesses various North Korean missiles relabeled with Farsi names such as the Shabab-1 and Shabab-2, the Shahab-3 is uniquely suited to deliver a nuclear bomb to Israel. The Shahab-3 is designed to carry a warhead of approximately 800-1000 kilograms, and boasts a range of some 1,200 kilometers — far enough to reach Israel.
Most importantly, it can detonate not only upon impact, but in an airburst above ground. The lethal Shahab-3 missiles are truck-mobile, so they can shoot from a parking lot or a pistachio grove. No one can be sure how many Shahab-3s are held in Tehran’s inventory, but certainly it is scores, if not hundreds. Videos show Iran shooting several at once. This particular missile is the one that IAEA inspectors and governments most closely associate with Iran’s nuclear weapon program. They have been worried about it for years.
ISIS notes from a February 2008 IAEA weaponization briefing state: “The information presented, which included multimedia files, describes several aspects of what could be nuclear-weapons development [including] instructions on ... missile-reentry vehicle research including the chronology of events-separation of the missile, loss-of-tracking, switching on of altitude detectors, and timing of firing devices leading to an explosion at an altitude of about 600 meters. The IAEA notes that the altitude described in the documents excludes the possibility that the warhead was designed to accommodate conventional explosives or chemical and biological charges.”
A 2008 IAEA report recounts a discussion with the Iranians about “parameters and development work related to the Shahab-3 missile, in particular technical aspects of a reentry vehicle.” IAEA inspectors “made available to Iran for examination a computer image ... showing a schematic layout of the contents of the inner cone of a reentry vehicle. This layout has been assessed by the agency as quite likely to be able to accommodate a nuclear device.” Iran denied the authenticity of the schematic.
The November 2011 IAEA military annex reflects alarm regarding “high explosives (including the development of exploding bridgewire detonators) and re-engineering of the payload chamber of the Shahab 3 missile reentry vehicle.” When the November 2011 IAEA report cited its concern over “at least one large-scale experiment in 2003 to initiate a high-explosive charge in the form of a hemispherical shell,” the agency specified in the same paragraph that “the explosives used with it were consistent with the dimensions for the new payload, which, according to the alleged studies documentation, were given to the engineers who were studying how to integrate the new payload into the chamber of the Shahab 3 missile reentry vehicle.”
Later, in a subsequent section of that November 2011 IAEA military annex entitled “Fusing, Arming and Firing system,” the inspectors report that they asked the Tehran authorities about design graphics that reflect efforts to “integrate the new payload into the reentry vehicle of the Shahab 3 missile [and] ... the development of a prototype firing system that would enable the payload to explode both in the air above a target or upon impact of the reentry vehicle.” Iran formally replied that the graphics were a mere “animation game.” In other words, Iran dismissed the nuclear-bomb graphics as a sort of doodle.
The matter came up again last year in a section of the November 2011 IAEA military annex entitled “Integration into a Missile Delivery Vehicle.” The IAEA Board of Governors repeated, “The project appears to have consisted of a structured and comprehensive program of engineering studies to examine how to integrate a new spherical payload into the existing payload chamber, which would be mounted in the reentry vehicle of the Shahab 3 missile.”
The reason Iran’s pursuit of an airburst detonation of approximately 600 meters is so troubling to IAEA inspector is because the inspectors know their history. The atomic bombs dropped over Hiroshima and Nagasaki were designed to detonate as an airburst—at 600 meters.
How sure is sure?
Just how sure is the IAEA about its findings? The agency certainly tends to liberally sprinkle the word “alleged” and “alleged documentation” throughout its reportage. That is the pro forma language of such international bodies. But to address any reservation on the authenticity of the information assembled, the IAEA in its 2011 military annex took the rare opportunity of including a full section titled “Credibility of Information.”
The Credibility of Information section assured the authenticity of the data, certifying that it relied upon “a large volume of documentation (including correspondence, reports, graphs from presentations, videos, and engineering drawings), amounting to over a thousand pages. The information reflected in that documentation is of a technically complex and interconnected nature, showing research, development, and testing activities over time. It also contains working-level correspondence consistent with the day-to-day implementation of a formal programme. Consistent with the Agency’s practice, that information has been carefully and critically examined. The Agency has also had several meetings with the Member State [Iran] to clarify the information it had provided, to question the Member State [Iran] about the forensics it had carried out on the documentation and the information reflected in it, and to obtain more information on the underlying sources.”
The Credibility of Information section added that the IAEA information was obtained from diverse sources and vetted by official bodies in numerous countries. “In addition to the alleged studies documentation,” the IAEA November 2011 military annex states, “the Agency has received information from more than ten Member States. This has included procurement information, information on international travel by individuals said to have been involved in the alleged activities, financial records, documents reflecting health and safety arrangements, and other documents demonstrating manufacturing techniques for certain high-explosive components. This information reinforces and tends to corroborate the information reflected in the alleged studies documentation and relates to activities substantially beyond those identified in that documentation.”
Driving home the degree of certitude, the IAEA annex averred, “In addition to the information referred to ... the Agency has acquired information as a result of its own efforts, including publications and articles acquired through open-source research, satellite imagery, the results of Agency verification activities, and information provided by Iran in the context of those verification activities. Importantly, the Agency has also had direct discussions with a number of individuals who were involved in relevant activities in Iran, including, for example, an interview with a leading figure in the clandestine nuclear-supply network. The information obtained by the Agency from the discussions with these individuals is consistent with the information provided by Member States, and that acquired through its own efforts, in terms of time frames and technical content.”
That IAEA military annex complains of Iran’s obstruction. While “Iran has acknowledged certain information reflected in the alleged studies documentation ... many of the answers given by Iran to questions posed by the Agency in connection with efforts to resolve the Agency’s concerns have been imprecise and/or incomplete, and the information has been slow in coming and sometimes contradictory.” In addition, the IAEA complains of secret activities, saying, “The existence of previously undeclared parts of Iran’s nuclear programme, have tended to increase the Agency’s concerns, rather than dispel them.”
In a final statement, the agency make the blanket statement: “Based on these considerations, and in light of the Agency’s general knowledge of the Iranian nuclear programme and its historical evolution, the Agency finds the information upon which Part C of this Annex is based to be, overall, credible.”
In summation, based on voluminous data, the IAEA reiterates its concern: “Iran has carried out activities that are relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device.”
Just days ago, on August 30, the IAEA Board of Governors issued a statement with Restricted Distribution reiterating its long-held conclusion: “Since 2002, the Agency has become increasingly concerned about the possible existence in Iran of undisclosed nuclear related activities involving military-related organizations, including activities related to the development of a nuclear payload for a missile.” The August 30 statement emphasizes once again, “Iran has carried out activities that are relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device. This information, which comes from a wide variety of independent sources, including from a number of Member States, from the Agency’s own efforts, and from information provided by Iran itself, is assessed by the Agency to be, overall, credible.”
In its August 30, 2012 report summary, the IAEA concluded that it was more or less giving up: “As Iran is not providing the necessary cooperation,” the IAEA stated, “the Agency is unable to provide credible assurance about the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities in Iran, and therefore to conclude that all nuclear material in Iran is in peaceful activities.”
News and revelations
The point of these revelations about Iran’s advanced warhead design is that they are not revelations at all. The news is that these revelations are old news. They have been known to Western governments for many months and in some cases several years. This information was not given to this writer in a Georgetown briefing by a defense official or in a Tel Aviv café by a Mossad operative. Everything quoted here is robustly searchable on the Internet. Almost none of it is taken from media reports, but rather from governmental, official or quasi-official sources publically available. For some 15 years, Iran has been building a bomb. Government leaders know this.
Israel will wait until the last moment, diplomatic sources say, allowing every nonmilitary lever to work. Ultimately, Israel will rely upon itself as it did when it destroyed the Iraqi nuclear reactor in 1981 in Operation Babylon and, according to foreign reports, the budding Syrian-North Korean reactor in 2007 in Operation Orchard.
To the question of when any such attack on Iran might occur, the best minds say, “He who knows does not speak; he who speaks does not know.” But the best sense is that when and if it happens, the noise will be deafening and reverberate for a long time.